Sam “Squeak E. Clean” Spiegel has an impressive resume. He’s produced albums for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ben Lee, scored commercials for Adidas and Levi’s and composed soundtracks for David O. Russell and Spike Jonze. These days his primary focus is N.A.S.A. (North America/South America) – a musical collaboration between Spiegel and Zé “DJ Zegon” Gonzales. Over a 5-year period the duo have enlisted the services of music heavyweights David Byrne, Chuck D, RZA, the Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, Tom Waits, ODB, George Clinton and many others to contribute vocals to their debut album Spirit of Apollo. The goal of the album is to “bring people together with music.” A perfect example is the pairing of Tom Waits with Kool Keith on the track “Spacious Thoughts.” The fact that they got the reclusive Tom Waits to join the project, speaks volumes to the effort they put into this record. They are also adding the finishing touches on a documentary chronicling the making of the album.
I spoke with Sam by phone last week to discuss the project, the ones that got away and intergalactic loving.
R&G: How are you doing?
Sam: Lovely. Just getting some stuff done while I’m back in town on break.
R&G: Were you in Brazil?
Sam: Yeah – I just got back yesterday.
R&G: Was it crazy?
Sam: It was crazy, man. Brazil is always crazy. People definitely have a lot of fun there.
R&G: That’s cool. You’ve mentioned that James Brown was one of the guys you really wanted to work with on the Spirit Of project. Who else was on your wish list that didn’t make it on the album?
Sam: So many people. David Bowie, Lou Reed, Tom Yorke, Damon Albarn, Al Green, Morrissey, Mos Def, Andre 3000, Jay-Z, Nas, Rakim, Björk. There are so many people.
R&G: Did you reach out to Q-Tip or Kool Moe Dee or Schoolly D? Any of those guys?
Sam: Q-Tip was actually almost on the record, but it didn’t end up working out.
R&G: Were there red tape issues with the other guy’s labels or just conflicting schedules?
Sam: Some people politely declined. David Bowie said, “I really like this, but it’s not for me.” I think he said, “It’s not my cup of tea.”
R&G: I hear that Lou Reed is notoriously difficult. What happened with him?
Sam: He just wanted an insane amount of money we could have never afforded, so unfortunately we couldn’t do it with him.
R&G: Were some of the artists working for free?
Sam: Yeah. Some guys were nice enough to lend their services just because they loved the project. That was awesome. We hooked people up with as much as we could, but it was great to see people just volunteering their services because they were inspired.
R&G: Where did you have the most fun recording? In Hawaii with Kanye, Jamaica with Sizzla, the woods with Tom Waits or Harlem with ODB?
Sam: I don’t know, man. There were so many great recording experiences. I think one of my favorites was recording with Tom Waits up in this log cabin in the Bay Area. That was a really amazing experience. Going to Jamaica to record at Sizzla’s Rasta compound was certainly a one-of-a-kind experience, and a way that people don’t really get to see Jamaica or reggae culture very often. We got to peep in and see his crazy life on his Rasta compound and see what that’s like. It was a crazy adventure, and I never knew what was going to happen – where I was going next. That was something that was really fun about making the record.
R&G: How was it working with ODB?
Sam: In true ODB fashion, he actually flaked on the session, of course, and then we rescheduled. The next day, he flaked on the session again. I would have it no other way. Then he actually sent some vocals that he just recorded at home. And… then I kind of made some comments and I was surprised that he actually addressed them and sent them back. I think he gave us a really amazing verse, two verses. I was really happy with the end product.
R&G: Didn’t he pass away shortly after the recordings.
Sam: It was about two weeks after the recording.
R&G: That’s sad.
Sam: I know.
R&G: On a lighter note. Did you get a lot of action after Paper Magazine named you one of their beautiful people of 2006?
Sam: Oh yeah. It was like a cavalcade of sexy women. It was like, what’s that Beatles movie?
R&G: A Hard Day’s Night?
Sam: Yeah. It was like A Hard Day’s Night. There were hundreds of women chasing me everywhere I went.
R&G: And now you’ve got N.A.S.A. behind you, so I guess the streak continues.
Sam: Yeah, it’s good, and what’s great about having N.A.S.A. is that we not only get the women on earth, but we get all the alien and intergalactic women chasing us too.
R&G: How fun are they?
Sam: There are certain advantages of some of the other species of our universe: multiple ways to explore each other sexually, extra limbs… it’s a whole other world of sexual exploration.
R&G: I imagine that the problem with intergalactic women, is they don’t leave and when they do leave, there is a high probability that they will steal your wallet on the way out.
Sam: True [laughs].
R&G: How’s Karen O’s [Yeah Yeah Yeahs] solo album coming along?
Sam: It’s really good. It’s finished. We just have to put a couple mix tweaks on it, but I’m not really allowed to talk about it because Karen will kill me if I do. She wants me to keep it top secret and she’s just waiting until she thinks it’s the right time to release it.
R&G: What should we expect at your El Rey show in Los Angeles? Any special guests lined up?
Sam: We have some confirmed special guests. We’re working on some other stuff. I’m not going to give it away right now, but it’s going to be a great show, and we’re pulling out all the stops. If anybody was at the Coachella show, they can hope for something like that, but better.
N.A.S.A. – Wednesday, August 12th – El Rey Theatre (Buy Tix)
N.A.S.A. – The Spirit of Apollo (iTunes)